Enjoy life now... it has an expiration date.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Blue Girl WIP #6A and 6B

(9 x 12, Colored Pencil with watercolor underpainting)

She's got hair!

Posting two WIP's... the whole portrait to date and a close up of her face.

I've given her some hair and made some refinements to her face (they were necessary... really!). Blue Girl will have a chance to sit for a while before I work on it again ... I'll be out of town - and offline - for a few days so I hope you have a good weekend and I'll catch up with you about the middle of next week.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Newspaper column for May 2009

Sneaky Snakes and Gluttonous Guests

In recent years, as I’ve gotten older, and, I suppose, more mellow, I’ve become fascinated by the world of nature surrounding me. Though I’ve always appreciated the outdoors in terms of beautiful scenery, lately I’ve become interested enough in nature - birds in particular - to observe them regularly and even do a little research. I can actually identify a few birds now- besides the very obvious Cardinals, Blue Jays and woodpeckers.

Regularly visiting our bird feeder, besides the cardinals and one red bellied woodpecker, are a variety of other birds including the Indigo Bunting, a nuthatch, the Eastern Towhee, a Blue Grosbeak, one spectacularly colored Red Headed Woodpecker, plus a few others whose names I’ve yet to learn. Also congregating around the feeder are the softly colored Mourning Doves, at least one Brown Thrasher, and, predictably, way too many blackbirds, grackles and crows- those unwelcome and ill-mannered banquet crashers who descend in raucous cawing mobs to decimate the supply of sunflower seeds while bullying away the smaller, less aggressive birds. Darn pests!

A couple of weeks ago a male Kill Deer (yes, the male!) built a nest in the rocks of a ditch across from our house. The nest was really nothing more than a shallow, round depression in the rocks. The bird had used smaller pieces of rock to line the nest - not exactly my idea of comfortable or cozy. Nonetheless, in a few days three Kill Deer eggs were lying in their extra firm bed. Every time the hubby and I went for a walk we passed the nest, and though we tried to avoid upsetting Mama Kill Deer it was inevitable. At first sight of us she went into her famous broken wing routine. She quickly hopped off the nest, ran wildly down the road, and then while rolling over on her side and turning her wing at an awkward angle, she flapped the "broken" wing helplessly and squawked for dear life. It was, of course, an elaborate charade, designed to draw a predator’s attention away from her nest and eggs. The idea was that a predator would see an "injured" bird - an easy meal - and pursue her. When the predator got close, Mama Kill Deer made an amazing recovery and flew off! For a week we checked on the nest during our evening walks. After a few days, she began to relax a little- enough so that if we stayed on the far side of the road she didn’t leave the nest, although she watched us intently as we passed by. We thoroughly enjoyed watching her and hoped that she’d successfully raise her young. But we were doubtful. Last year we lost three broods of baby Bluebirds to snakes. The Kill Deer eggs, in their out-in-the open location, were easy pickings for snakes and other predators. So we continued to watch and hope for the best. One day we went to check the nest, and as we approached there was no sound or movement. Not a good sign. We were disappointed to see an empty, abandoned nest. I looked around carefully... no signs of any disturbance or broken egg shells... probably the clean work of a snake. Darn snake. What a struggle life is for birds... it seems that only a minority of them actually hatch and grow to adulthood. The next week another Kill Deer made a nest in our side yard. The nest soon had three speckled eggs clustered in the center. We watched. After a few days the eggs were devoured by a predator. Again, no signs of disturbance around the nest. Darn sneaky snake. I began to harbor exceedingly malevolent thoughts about this persistent and efficient predator, and considered ways to bring about his untimely end should he be so unfortunate as to be spotted by me. Thus far, he’s been more successful in eluding me than his helpless victims were in eluding him.

The Kill Deer are not alone in living this everyday struggle that is their life. At the same time the Kill Deer were nursing their eggs, we also had baby bluebirds in the bluebird house; a three egg nest in my tall butterfly bush (I haven’t seen the mother fly off the nest and not sure what kind of eggs they are); and one superbly built nest in the domed cover of the gauge on the propane gas tank in the back yard (photo above). From doing a little reading, I think the eggs under the gas tank gauge cover belong to a Carolina Chickadee. Chickadees usually lay between five and seven eggs, white with reddish brown markings. Bingo! We have six eggs fitting that description. For such a small bird the nest is quite impressive. Sturdily built, it slopes down from a high side on one end to a taper on the low end - a cornucopia-like shape. The nest cavity is quite deep and is lined with fine, soft bedding (baby Chickadees obviously have more cushy digs than baby Kill Deer). So far, so good on the Chickadees. We’re keeping our fingers crossed. As for the baby Bluebirds, I’m happy to report that the youngsters fledged and went their way into the world. The unidentified eggs in the butterfly bush did not fare so well- the next time I checked on them they were gone. Mostly likely that darn snake again.

I look back and am surprised that until recent years I was fairly oblivious to the life and death struggle and everyday adventures going on all around me. It’s been an eye-opener and source of wonder to stop and really observe nature. It may sound corny, but each season is now fresh and new, and every baby bird, newly opened flower, and spectacular sky is a mini miracle. Albert Einstein said, "There are two ways to live your life; one is as though nothing is a miracle, and the other is as though everything is a miracle". In my younger years I was in the first category, with a little age and perhaps a little wisdom I’m happy to now find myself in the latter category.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Blue Girl WIP #5

I meant to post another WIP before I got quite this far along, but art is so intoxicating that when I get into it I forget about everything else... including taking photos for WIPS!

Most of her face is about finished, and I've lightly drawn in some basic hair shapes. Her hair will be the next thing to do. I want to lighten up her skin a little on the areas of her face that reflect the most light- the watercolor underpainting gave quite a bit of color and needs toning down in some areas. This is fairly easily accomplished and I've liked having that initial layer down before starting with cp's. Will probably go that route again on with some other portraits.

"Blue Girl" has been the most enjoyable portrait to date. I've been much more relaxed, have had very little re-do's, and have looked forward to working on it. I'd like to think that has something to do with the hours I've spent practicing, experimenting, reading about and studying portraiture - enough so that some of the info has gelled and I can begin to focus a little more on how I want to interpret a portrait rather than how do I achieve this effect or that effect. I've got little scrap pieces of various types of art paper scattered around my art table where I've tried out different techniques and colors. This "playing around" has been a tremendous help, and I save these labeled experiments to refer to as needed.

Something else that's making a difference in my work process... I've begun to develop a basic palette that I'm comfortable with when painting skin, eyes and mouths. My palette may change as I continue to experiment, but knowing ahead of time what colors to use to get the effect I'm after saves a lot of what my mother would call "dithering around". So far the pencils and colors that I "must have" are: Prismacolor: white, cream, jasmine, light peach, beige, peach, goldenrod, blush pink, rosy beige, clay rose, carmine red, henna, raspberry, light umber and dark umber; Lyra: light flesh, raw umber, cinnamon; Polychromos: light flesh, light yellow ochre, burnt ochre; Caran d'ache: light ochre, venetian red, sanguine. It should be noted that I've fairly recently started using Polychromos and Caran d'ache, so I only have a few colors as a trial and am still getting acquainted with them. So far I'm very impressed with both brands...and I'm particularly in love with Venetian Red by Caran d'ache... a wonderful color for subtle shading on faces! Other colors (for irises, hair, etc) I use as needed and haven't settled down with any particular favorites yet.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Blue Girl WIP #4

9x12, Colored Pencil on Stonehenge with watercolor underpainting.

Made some progress on the Blue Girl. Added a little more detail to her hat and got quite a bit done on the eyes, although I'll add more modeling around the eye area as I model other areas of the face. I've also put three very light cp layers down on her face, covering the initial watercolor wash. I like the look of smooth, soft skin (especially on young children) so I'll be paying particular attention to very gradual color changes as I introduce the shadows and highlights that will bring dimension to the face. Although it doesn't look like I've done that much since the last WIP, there's actually quite a bit of time involved in those light layers and careful painting of the eyes. I took my time doing her eyes as I'm determined to work as often as I can by Laure's motto of "Get in, get it down, get out!".... in other words, as little re-doing as possible.

A Special Post for Jeanne!

This post is in honor of Jeanne (visit her blog here). It's her birthday today! It's a special birthday... one of those milestone days... but be it far from me to reveal any numeric details.

Jeanne was one of the first people that I really got to know through blogging. Though we've never met in person (we live on opposite sides of the US... she all the way over to the west in California, and me all the way over to the east in North Carolina- 3,000 miles apart) we've developed a special friendship that includes regular emails interspersed with entertainingly chatty phone calls. Jeanne is a joy to know. She has a wonderful, quirky sense of humor, makes charming and colorful art, and is just a delight.

And now, Jeanne, you may not be aware of this, but I'm known to write [appallingly corny] poems. So, in honor of your birthday, is one such [appallingly corny] poem written just for you:

She loves chocolate and cookies,
TV and art;
Bill, Penny and Friday,
and sketching in the park.

She lives in California,
where the Beverly Hillbillies went to,
Though I'm not a hillbilly,
I send this greeting from the South to you.

Celebrate this milestone birthday-
may it be a wonderful year,
Filled with all the things you love:
Family, friends, doggies
blogging, art and good cheer!

Happy Birthday my friend.... wishing you a Special Day and a Wonderful Year!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Blue Girl WIP and other ramblings.....

After a short but happy fling with oils and landscapes, I'm back to colored pencil and a portrait. Truthfully, I'm still surprised that I like colored pencil as much as I do... but since I keep answering the siren call of those beguiling sticks of color I guess I'm officially hooked. 'Course, I really like the Artisan oils too so I plan to continue working with them as well. Nice to switch back and forth between two refreshingly different mediums.

I'm posting the reference for the latest portrait and a couple of WIPs. Since I love to experiment I approached this portrait a little differently... I did a detailed drawing first. I usually just start with basic outlines and "draw" as I paint. Only problem with that is with portraits there's little to no fudge room and if something has to be re-done (not that I would ever do a thing like that) it's a hassle getting several layers of color off... whereas if there's a problem with the initial pencil drawing... ha! my trusty eraser will make it vanish faster than you can say "Hey, Presto!".

I'm also trying a watercolor underpainting. I'm doing this primarily for speed (because it will put a fast layer of light color down where I don't want the white of the paper showing, thus saving me a layer or two of painstaking pencil "washes"). That's the general idea anyway... whether or not it works to my satisfaction- I'll get back to you on that!

Lastly, if you're reading this and I normally read your blog ... don't give up on me yet! I've had a lot going on with family commitments the last couple of weeks (one son and his fiancee flying off to Costa Rica for a two week wedding/honeymoon/beach and surfing vacation, the other graduating from NC State... Go Wolfpack!) so I've had little time on the computer. Tomorrow I'll have access to a computer with high speed internet (thanks, Dad!) and plan to catch up then... in what will be record time for me (since I'm still on dial up... which should be called TurtleNet).

Have a great weekend!

BTW - the reference photo came from WetCanvas - thank you to the generous person who uploaded it.
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